Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Season's Harvest

Fall season is here and gourds and squash are abundant. What to do with those odd looking vegetables? Let me first say that gourds and squash are healthy and versatile. Even better, gourds and squash are fairly inexpensive and go a long way in a dish. Stretch your grocery dollars and support area farmers and your local economy by shopping at farm markets.
Squashes are gourds; fleshy vegetables protected by a rind that belong to the Cucurbitacea family, which also includes melons and cucumbers. Squash is a notably American food. It sustained Native Americans for some 5 thousand years and nourished the early European settlers, who quickly made the vegetable a mainstay of their diet. From Acorn to Zuchinni, they are high in fiber, nutrient dense, and virually fat free. Winter squash is one of the best for storage. Squash that is stored has more carotene than freshly picked squash.
Baking: This method brings out the sweetness of winter squash. You can bake squash halves (Acorn is excellent for this!) with the skins on, later scooping out and mashing the flesh with your favorite seasonings such as cinnamon, brown sugar, sesame seeds, or grated cheese.
Boiling: This method is faster, though it tends to dilute flavors. Place peeled squash pieces in a small amount of water and boil until tender. Drain off water and mash.
Microwave: Arrange squash halves
cut side up or, chunks, in microwaveable dish, cover and cook until tender (7-10 min.). Let stand for 5 min. after cooking.
Sauteeing: Grated or peeled, diced squash can be sauteed in broth or oil in a non-stick skillet. Cook until slightly crunchy.
Steaming: Place seeded squash halves in a vegetable steamer and cook over boiling water until tender. Or, cook peeled chunks/slices in the steamer 15-20 min.
Serve mashed or pureed. To enhance the natural sweetness, combine the squash with any of the following baked or steamed pears, apples, bananas, cranberries, lemon, orange juice, almond or vanilla extract, fresh or powdered ginger, curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, cloves, brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey. For a savory dish, mash the cooked squash with sauteed onions, garlic, and herbs, or mix with cooked corn, tomatoes, and bell peppers.

Winter salad of squash, pomegranate and pine nuts recipe:

A tangy salad that makes a good first course. To turn it into a substantial main dish for two, add a teacupful of cooked pearl barley or couscous.

1lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes

4 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lime juice

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses or 1 tbsp honey mixed with 1 extra tsp lime juice

a bunch of watercress, washed and tough stems removed

2 tbsp red pomegranate seeds (buy them ready shelled in punnets in the fruit section of the supermarket)

2oz/60g pine nuts

  • Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Line a large roasting tin with non-stick parchment.
  • Tumble the squash into the roasting tin and toss in a tablespoonful of olive oil until coated. Sprinkle with salt and grind over pepper.
  • Roast for 30 minutes or until tender and edged with brown.
  • Mix the rest of the olive oil with the lime juice and pomegranate molasses (or honey). Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  • In a large bowl, mix the watercress, butternut squash and dressing with pomegranate seeds and pine nuts. Divide between plates and serve.
For more recipes, visit What's Cooking America

Friday, October 23, 2009

What We Know About Vitamin D

The evidence that vitamin D protects against breast cancer is suggestive, but inconclusive. Many types of cancer are currently being studied under the influence of vitamin D. Colon, pancreatic, and prostate cancer are showing significant reductions of incidence with the use of vitamin D supplements of 1000 IU or more per day. One study suggests significant reductions in total cancer. Animal studies offer a surplus of evidence that vitamin D protects against cancer.
Vitamin D decreases cell proliferation and is a powerful anti-inflammatory. There is preliminary evidence that it may lower the risk of multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, heart disease, autism, and autoimmune thyroid disease. Vitamin D also plays a role in depression. Most studies are too new to show any long term effects. Firm conclusions will be based on further research.
For now, shoot for 700 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day. Most multi-vitamins supply 400 IU. Expect only 40 - 150 IU in most foods fortified with vit. D. Toxicity levels have not yet been established, though studies using as much as 3000 IU/day have shown no ill effects. Farmed salmon has about 1/4 the vit. D of wild salmon. Only a few foods (like fatty fish) have more that 220 IU of vit. D per serving. Ultra violet rays from the sun can prompt your skin, liver, and kidneys to make vit. D, but UV rays are too weak in the winter (unless you live as far south as Los Angeles or Atlanta), or use sunscreen. That's why it may be simpler to get vit. D from a supplement.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Powerful Pomegranates

Fresh Pomegranates are available in September through January. Nutritional research confirms that pomegranates contain minerals e.g. calcium, potassium, and iron, plus compounds known as phytonutrients, that help the body protect against heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.The powerful antioxidants in the fruit also help retard aging and can neutralize almost twice as many free radicals as red wine and seven times as many as green tea.
Studies on both mice and humans have produced positive results in the reversal of atherosclerosis. After one year of drinking eight oz. of pomegranate juice daily,
the people in a 2004 study showed a 35 % decline in thickness of the carotid artery walls. Over the same period, the people who did not drink the juice showed a 9% increase in the thickness of the carotid arterial wall.
Buying pomegranate juice is tricky, though. Only a quarter of the companies that market it are selling the actual product. Many of them contain cheaper juices (apple, grape, or pear) to stretch the more expensive pomegranate juice. Others are sweetened with sugars or colored with blackcurrant to assimilate the color of pomegranates. Check ingredient labels; the price is also a clue to an unadulterated product.
Fresh pomegranates, also known as "Chinese apples" sparkle in winter and holiday meals adding brilliant color, flavor and texture to dishes ranging from appetizers to desserts. The ruby colored fruit we refer to as seeds are called arils. Use the arils as a garnish or add to tossed salads. Each aril is a delicious sac of juice that surrounds a seed. Pomegranates can contain 840 arils that are compartmentalized between shiny, tough membranes. The arils range from pink to dark red. Whether you swallow the seeds or spit them out is a matter of personal preference. Keep in mind that the seeds add fiber; researchers suggest that the crunchy seeds help flush fats and cholesterol from the digestive tract.
The edible fruit from one medium pomegranate (5 ounces) contains 104 calories, 1.5 g protein, 26.4 g carbohydrates, 9 mg vitamin C and 399 mg potassium.
One medium pomegranate weighs about 9 ounces and yields about 5 ounces of fruit (3/4 cup) and 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of juice.
WHOLE pomegranates keep well at room temperature for several days, away from sunlight; up to 3 months refrigerated in plastic bags.
For more ways to enjoy pomegranates, click POM recipes

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Trans Fat & Breast Cancer

Gram for gram, the naturally occurring trans fat in high fat dairy foods and beef poses as much, if not more, risk to the heart and breasts as the man-made trans fat in partially hydrogenated oils. Beef and dairy have about 10 times the saturated fat as trans fat. (Pork has no trans fat.) Fats in the body cause oxidative damage to cells. If you minimize the fatty beef and high fat dairy foods, you avoid the harm from both types of fats. Skip foods made with partially hydrogenated oils in restaurants and the supermarket. And don't believe the industry claims that "natural" trans fat is harmless! Not everything found in nature is harmless.
A 7 year study in France recently revealed that women with higher blood levels of trans fat were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer as those with lower levels of trans fat.
~American Journal of Epidemiology~

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Folate Linked to Breast Cancer

Folate, also known as folic acid, helps convert vitamin B12 to one of it's coenzyme forms and helps synthesize the DNA required for all rapidly growing cells. The need for folate rises considerably during pregnancy and whenever cells are multiplying, so the recommendations for pregnant women are higher than for older adults. Women past their childbearing years, however, may have a higher risk of breast cancer with the use of supplements.
Researchers studied more than 1700 women in 1993 with high blood levels of folate. Ten years later, the women with the highest amount of blood folate levels were at a 70% higher risk of breast tumors that respond to estrogen or progesterone than those with the lowest levels. It is also believed that folate actually "feeds the tumor."
What to do? Until more studies are done, play it safe. If you take a multivitamin:
  • Watch your cereals. Many breakfast/energy bars and cereals are fortified with folate or folic acid. If you typically eat more than one serving (about 1/2 - 1 cup) watch for cereals that contain 25 or 50% of the daily value for folic acid.
  • Go whole grain. White pasta, rice, and breads are fortified with 100 to 130 mcg of folic acid per cup. Whole grain bread, pasta and brown rice are not.
  • Don't worry about naturally occuring folate. The folate in orange juice, vegetables, beans and other foods isn't absorbed as well as the folic acid in fortified foods, so it's not a problem.
Just keep in mind than folate helps prevent spina bifida and neural-tube birth defects. So if you are, or could become pregnant, get at least 400 mcg a day of folic acid from a multivitamin or your food.
~ American Journal of Clinical Nutrition~

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lifestyle Links to Breast Cancer

A study reported by the Journal of Clinical Oncology (2009) found that being obese, smoking, and drinking alcohol all increase the risk of breast cancer being diagnosed a second time in women previously diagnosed with the disease.

The researchers looked at the records of more than 1,000 women successfully treated for early-stage breast cancer. About 360 of the women were later diagnosed with a new breast cancer in the opposite breast (known as contralateral breast cancer). The researchers wanted to know if being obese, smoking, and regularly drinking alcohol contributed to the risk of developing a second breast cancer.

The risk of developing a second breast cancer was:

  • 40% higher in women who were obese compared to women who weren't obese
  • almost doubled in women who drank seven or more alcoholic drinks per week compared to women who didn't drink alcohol or drank less
  • more than doubled in women who smoked compared to women who didn't smoke

The researchers also found that women who drank regularly AND smoked were more than 7 times more likely to develop a second breast cancer compared to women who didn't smoke or drink regularly.

If you have been treated for early-stage breast cancer, try to do all you can to lower both your risk of the cancer coming back AND your risk of a new, second breast cancer. Along with the treatment plan you and your doctor choose, a healthy diet and lifestyle can help keep these risks as low as possible:
  • Maintain a healthy weight and eat a low-fat diet that includes generous servings of fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly at medium intensity.
  • Don't smoke. If you do smoke, make the effort to quit.
  • Avoid alcohol.
Visit to learn about diet and lifestyle options to keep your risk as low as it can be.